Family of man who died in immigration detention seeking answers

Toronto — Grieving parents and siblings of Francisco Javier Romero Astorga, who died in immigration detention on March 13th, will be asking the Canadian public for help to obtain answers about Francisco’s death in a press conference via Skype on March 23, 2016. The Canada Border Services Agency or the federal government have not even publicly released Francisco’s name and are yet to explain the cause of Francisco’s mysterious death in immigration detention. End Immigration Detention Network will join them in calling for answers and demanding an end to immigration detention.

Francisco is the 14th person known to have died in while being detained by the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), and is the second person to die in CBSA custody in the span of a week. On March 7, 64 year old refugee Melkioro Gahungu committed suicide under CBSA’s watch in immigration detention rather than be deported to Burundi from where he fled. Currently a protest is underway outside Toronto Police Headquarters by Black Lives Matter Toronto against a number of instances of anti-Black violence in Canada including Mr Gahungu’s death.

WHAT: Parents and siblings of Francisco Javier Romero Astorga from Chile will share information about their brother and release an open letter calling for an explanation for his death. 

WHEN: 1pm, Wednesday, March 23, 2016

WHERE: Suite 223, 720 Spadina Avenue, Toronto
VISUALS: Parents and siblings of Francisco on Skype, pictures of Francisco and his family. 
Interviews before and after with the family will not be possible, so members of the press are encouraged to attend the press conference on March 23.

Key facts about immigration detention & violations

  • Since 2000, at least 14 immigrants have died in CBSA custody. 8 of the 14 deaths took place in Ontario provincial prisons. Most common cause of death is denial of adequate health care followed by suicide. CBSA has never publicly revealed details of all the deaths in its custody.
  • Over 7300 migrants were detained without charges or trial in 2013. Approximately, one-third of all detention happens in maximum security provincial facilities rented out by provincial governments to Canada Border Services Agency. 60% of all detentions take place in Ontario. In 2013, migrant detainees spent a whopping total of 183,928 days (that’s over 503 years) in immigration detention. Detentions cost over a quarter of a billion dollars over five years.
  • CBSA regularly imprisons children. At the same time, it does not report on imprisonment of children with Canadian citizen insisting that they are ‘accompanying’ their parents.
  • Canada is one of the few western countries in the world without a time limit on detentions, thus some immigrants have been jailed for over 12 years without charges or trial. The United Nations has twice asked Canada to end this practice.
  • There is absolutely no system to determine under what circumstances some detainees are held in one of three federal immigration holding centres (Toronto, Laval and Vancouver) and the rest in provincial jails.
  • The decision to detain or release is made by civil servants, who are not legally trained, known as Board Members. Board Members release rates vary arbitrarily between 5% and 38%. Release rates also vary by region, 9% in Ontario, and 26.5% in the rest of Canada. There is no comprehensive judicial oversight of these decisions. An immigration detainee does not have an automatic right of appeal.
  • If convicted for a crime, immigrants unlike citizens are punished three times. First, for the crime itself, Second, by having their immigration status revoked or if it’s in process, denied, and pushed into deportation. Third, by being jailed, in some cases indefinitely.
  • CBSA has been found to use international smugglers to get fake documents to deport migrants to countries they have no connections to, as in the case of Michael Mvogo. See full details here.
  • CBSA flies detainees to Kenya, and then pays bush-pilots US$25,000 in cash to transport those detainees to Somalia. See CBC investigation in the case of Saeed Jama here.
  • The purpose of detention is stated to be ‘flight risk’ or ‘danger to the public’. There exist no criteria to make this designation, and no appeals process or access to courts to challenge it. Immigration detention is limited to undocumented residents – who may be denied refugee claimants, migrants who overstayed their work, study or visit permits or former permanent residents who had their status revoked. Contrary to popular perception, 94.2 percent of refugees are detained on grounds other than being an alleged security threat.

Immigration detainees known to have died in custody since 2000
At least 8 of the known deaths have taken place in Ontario provincial prisons

  1. Francisco Javier Romero Astorga (March 2016) Cause of death unknown (in Ontario provincial prison)
  2. Melkioro Gahungu (March 2016) Suicide (in Ontario provincial prison)
  3. Abdurahman Ibrahim Hassan (June 2015) ‘Restrained by guards’ (in Ontario provincial prison)
  4. Joseph Dunn (September 2014) Suicide (in Ontario provincial prison)
  5. Prince Maxamillion Akamai (April 2014) Denied adequate medical care (Toronto Immigration Holding Centre)
  6. Unidentified man (March 2013) Cause of death unknown (in Ontario provincial prison)
  7. Lucia Vega Jimenez (December 2013) Suicide (in Vancouver immigration holding centre)
  8. Shawn Dwight Cole (December 2012) Denied adequate medical care (in Ontario provincial prison)
  9. Unidentified man (August 2010) Cause of death unknown (in Laval immigration holding centre)
  10. Kevon O’Brien-Phillip (January 2010) Beaten by fellow inmates (in Ontario provincial prison)
  11. Jan Szamko (December 2009) Denied adequate medical care (in Toronto immigration holding centre)
  12. Joseph Fernandes (January 2007) Denied adequate medical care (in Toronto immigration holding centre)
  13. Sheik Kudrath (April 2000) Denied adequate medical care (in Ontario provincial prison)
  14. Unidentified man (Unknown) Cause of death unknown (unknown)

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